PHILADELPHIA – Kyle Schwarber crushed a 98 mph slider beyond the center field fence and the ball disappeared into a thicket of English ivy, Arborvitae, Holly, and other evergreen flourishing as the greenery backdrop at Citizens Bank Park.
Most of Schwarber’s homers land -- and yes, they do land even as some he hits might best be viewed through the Hubble once they reach orbit — in easy to track spots.
This particular ball, hit against San Diego during Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, almost needed a search party to locate. The area was swept, not by the grounds crew as might be the assumption, but by the team in charge of collecting game-used memorabilia. Schwarber doesn’t make it easy; he hit two into the bushes in one game this year and it couldn’t be verified which ball was which.
The NLCS ball was, indeed, found (though the authenticator was careful not to disturb one worn ball resting in a bird’s nest).
“Trees and shrubs, you’ve got to really look through,” said John Hollinger, who runs the authentication program. “Balls do get wedged in different spots.”
Schwarber will say there is no spinach that fuels his muscle -- even as his mammoth shots through the years have sunk into ivy or even smashed car windshields as he did in college -- and that he’s just a slugger who happens to have a little extra oomph in his swing.
Let everyone else stand in awe of Schwarber’s prodigious blasts, that include the NL-best 46 he hit this season and three more in the NLCS. The Philadelphia Phillies slugger only counts the runs that each homer scores, not the distant distance.
“Everyone likes to talk about the far homers,” Schwarber said Wednesday. “I really don’t care how far they go for me. It’s more about getting a run on the board.”
Schwarber has bashed and mashed baseballs his entire career and his power surge in the first season of his $79 million, four-year contract with the Phillies has fueled their run to the World Series. Schwarber took his hacks during Wednesday’s workout at the ballpark before the team left for Houston. The Phillies will start right-hander Aaron Nola in Game 1 and right-handed ace Zack Wheeler in Game 2.
Schwarber has done the bulk of his damage from the leadoff spot, as the game moves far away from the days of speedy table-setters such as Vince Coleman or Rickey Henderson at the top of the lineup. Schwarber struck out 200 times and hit only .218 but had a knack for hitting some of the memorable homers of Philadelphia’s surprising run at the pennant.
Schwarber slammed a homer off the second-deck facade on opening day in his first at-bat with the Phillies. He led off Game 3 of the NLCS with a homer off Padres ace Joe Musgrove. And the capper, so far, of all the Schwarbombs -- as they’re affectionately known in Philly -- the 488-foot blast in Game 1 against the Padres that had an exit velocity of 120 mph.
That homer — the second longest overall in the postseason since Statcast started tracking distance in 2015 — launched 1,001 memes thanks to teammate Bryce Harper’s bug-eyed, mouth-agape reaction in the dugout.
“I thought it got pretty small pretty fast,” Harper said after the game.
The 29-year-old Schwarber simply remembered the homer came in a postseason win. It’s a run no matter that Schwarber turns into some sort of Paul Bunyan mythical figure that can scare the leather off the ball with each colossal moon shot.
“Who cares about distance?” he asked. “I think it’s more about trying to impact a game in any way that you can, especially in important times, too.”
Schwarber made big October games a habit since he broke into the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 2015 and hit five homers in the postseason. The next year, Schwarber tore two ligaments in his left knee after a frightening collision with outfielder Dexter Fowler while chasing down a flyball. It was only the third game of the season and Schwarber about figured his year was over.
But 201 days later, and following months of relentless rehab, Schwarber returned to help the Cubs break the curse and win the 2016 World Series. He hit .412 with seven hits, one double and two RBIs in five World Series games.
He had a brief 72-game stint last season with Washington before he was traded to Boston. Naturally, Schwarber had a grand slam for the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series.
It's certainly not his first postseason rodeo — Schwarber's popularity soared like one of his homers after he rode a mechanical bull at the Phillies' NLCS party at a bar across the street from the ballpark.
“He’s done it in a lot of different places, and when that usually happens, that tends to not be an accident,” Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “Some guys just have that knack. They know what it takes to win. They know how to bring guys together, which I think has probably been some of the most important stuff he’s done in a Phillies uniform.”
Phillies manager Rob Thomson lauded Schwarber’s clubhouse contributions on Wednesday and noted how the slugger has seemed to enjoy holding court in front of his locker with younger teammates.
“He’s very outgoing and very honest with people,” Thomson said. “He jokes around about himself a lot which makes people feel comfortable to approach him. He helps the veterans, he helps the kids. And he goes through slumps, too, or periods of time when he’s not swinging the bat particularly well. Even though he’s trying to fix his own stuff, he’s still trying to help other people. That’s a great sign of a great teammate.”
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports